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Smart Garden 2020: Good Boulevard plants & Growing Tips

Boulevard garden on city block with house in background

How does the grass look in the boulevard strip near your home? If construction has taken place along the roadside next to your house, you may be managing a newly planted turfgrass area. The good news is...many resources are available on how to care for turfgrass planted in these challenging boulevard areas. 

Construction usually involves planting seed or sod and then homeowners are expected to maintain the area. If conditions favor the grass, all may go well. If there is no rainfall or extreme temperatures, the planting many fail. 

How to handle the (often) tough growing conditions of a boulevard

Boulevards usually contain salts from the roadside which affects plants, especially in the spring before rain can dilute the salts. Salt, in fact, is the main issue in Minnesota. 

The turfgrasses along a roadside also experience higher temperatures and are oftentimes not watered or fertilized as much as regular lawn areas. 

Here are some tips on how to handle these challenging site conditions: 
  • Kentucky bluegrass is especially sensitive to road salt, while fine fescues are not as affected. If you need to reseed a boulevard planting use a mix that is predominately fine fescues often sold as shady lawn grass seed. Fine fescue grasses grow well in sun and shade.  
  • Reducing the use of road salt and minimizing the use of deicers can help prevent plant loss and death.
  • Try an alternative to turfgrass, especially if site lines and traffic do not require plants that are very short. Short native grasses such as blue grama can be suitable turf alternatives in a boulevard.  
  • Resources for grasses and more plants that work on a boulevard:
    • The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites has a page of perennials and another of small trees specifically recommended for boulevards.   
    • Plants Elements of Design is a great search tool for finding plants with specific characteristics in this case, short stature and ability to persist in tough sites. 
    • The Minnesota Board of Soil and Water has a template for pollinator gardens in a sunny dry boulevard site. 
    • The Minnesota Department of Transportation has a Plant Selector Tool that can specify plants for your site and desired plant characteristics along roadsides.

What about the soil?

Boulevard soil should lower than the surrounding curb and sidewalks so they act as a sink for roadside or sidewalk water. Although this may add to debris collection and salt runoff, it will reduce leaching and soil erosion flowing into storm sewers and eventually Minnesota lakes. 

Learn more...

The University of Minnesota has developed a series of lessons for homeowners to learn how to manage roadside turfgrasses--and even your own lawn. Take a look!
Maintaining a boulevard garden can be a challenge but it is an opportunity to grow some tough plants and see what can live in such adverse conditions.

Author: Mary H. Meyer, Extension Horticulturist and Professor

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